Parenting toddlers is one of the hardest jobs! These tips including do’s and don’ts from a practical and spiritual perspective will help.
Remnants of lunch smeared across her pants, she totes a toddler on one hip and a diaper bag big enough for a family of 12. She can’t remember the last time she slept through the night or went to the bathroom by herself.
“No” is her new middle name, and an empty coffee cup is a serious emergency. Yep, she’s parenting a toddler. Possibly the most physically exhausting job there is. And somewhere in there, she’s supposed to train that little heart toward Jesus?
I remember those early parenting days well. My first two babies were 13 months apart. And I quickly wondered if I’d ever go to the bathroom without someone dumping a box of cereal on the carpet or if my Bible would grow dust from all those mornings I was just too tired to crack it open. Parenting toddlers was hard. Even though I was so graciously blessed with the privilege of having those sweet little tots, it was plain difficult, and many days I thought I might lose my mind.
Mom, just because your friend has 2 or 3 more kids than you do, don’t discount how difficult those toddler years are. Don’t discount how hard it is to parent even one toddler. This parenting thing is new every day, and just when you think you’ve got the little guy figured out, he changes.
I have a post on consequences for kids. The post itself is full of ideas that are applicable to children about ages 5-12. But this leaves a huge gap. Knowing that those early years—before age 5—are crucial to your child’s development, I wanted to offer up a few pieces of wisdom for parenting toddlers. Be encouraged, Mama, you can do this!
The Don’ts of Parenting Toddlers
Don’t take it personally … defiance is a flesh issue, not a reflection of her love for you. She’s trying to figure out what it means to be her own self in this world. Defiance is part of the process!
Don’t always hover … let her experience minor natural consequences for naughty behavior. Maybe she falls and scrapes her knee after you asked her not to run. Maybe she bumps her head when she keeps running through the house. Obviously, you want to make sure she’s not in danger, but minor natural consequences are key to learning obedience.
Don’t explain everything … he isn’t ready for theological or moral reasoning. Parenting toddlers means giving simple instructions without a lot of explanation. You’ll have plenty of time to share the moral reason why when he is older.
Don’t offer choices … choices complicate things at this stage in parenting toddlers. So don’t offer him choices. This includes clothes, colors, foods, etc. Save the battles for later.
Don’t let media dictate your child’s behavior … just because a tv show or media game is labeled “for kids” doesn’t always mean it’s best. As you parent your toddler, remember to pay attention to what you let her watch or games you let her play. She will imitate what she watches.
Don’t compare your child to others … each child learns to obey at his own pace. Some learn quickly, while others have a more challenging temperament. Be patient and consistent. Obedience and development will come.
The Do’s of Parenting Toddlers
Make time in God’s Word your priority.
Parenting toddlers is hard. And I know that finding alone time to be with God can seem impossible many days. But I promise, making time to be in God’s Word each day is a worthwhile investment for your children. If you can wake up FOR your kids, you won’t wake up TO them. And your whole day will change. Hello Mornings is a great place to start!
Find a Titus 2 woman.
If at all possible, find yourself a mentor—a Titus 2 woman—who can walk with you as you parent toddlers. I would encourage you to broaden your definition of “older woman.” While those women who have graduated multiple children are a wealth of knowledge, they have forgotten a LOT of what happens in the trenches of toddlerhood.
Instead, find a mom with multiple children who are late elementary or middle school. These moms have toddlerhood fresh on their minds. Trust me!
When I first had children, there was one thing I was SURE of. My children would obey. The first time. Period. Over the years, I have learned that this is a ridiculous expectation. Do I obey the first time every time? (God is shaking His head furiously right now.)
If I can’t meet that expectation as an adult, then I can’t have that expectation as I parent toddlers. I’m not saying to throw it all out the window and just let them do whatever they want. Be firm and consistent, but know that you must find grace for that sweet little defiant face.
Make a schedule.
If you cringe at the thought of a schedule and you have toddlers, I challenge you to consider trying it. Toddlers thrive on structure. They should get up at roughly the same time, take a nap at roughly the same time, and have meals at roughly the same time. This type of consistency helps them feel secure.
Give instructions, not options.
Remember, you are the mom. Don’t ask your child what she wants to do. Give instruction for what you want her to do. If you ask her if she wants to go to bed, do you honestly think she will ever say yes? Your question indicates to her that it’s an option, and it isn’t. The same thing goes for “OK.” Don’t put that on the end of your instructions. “Get in the car, OK?” is a choice. But you aren’t offering a choice. You want her in the car. So state that.
When you ask your child to do something or to stop doing something, ask only once. Don’t count to three. Don’t threaten, “If you do that one more time, I’m going to ….” Simply state your command one time. IF the child is disobedient, move directly to corrective discipline. Otherwise, you make yourself a liar, and that reputation will stick.
Fight disobedience with consistency.
Most offenses by a toddler involve the hands. These are new tools that he is just starting to understand. Discipline remains the same regardless of circumstances. If he takes a friend’s toy, pushes a sibling, or touches the TV remote, squeeze his hand and say “no.” If that doesn’t stop the behavior, remove him from the room.
For example, if he touches something he shouldn’t:
1st offense—make eye contact and say “no.”
2nd offense—squeeze his hand and say “no.”
3rd offense—remove the child to his crib or a high chair in another room.
Teach them to say, “Yes, Mom.”
I start this really early with parenting toddlers. If Baby is doing something naughty, I tell him “no,” remove him from the situation and say “Yes, Mom” while showing him obedience. Once he is about 18 months old, I first say “no” and then coax him to obedience while saying, “Yes, Mom.” If he doesn’t comply, pick him up and show him obedience while saying, “Yes, Mom.” (If he goes back to the problem area, then I would confine him in the high chair or pack ‘n play.)
Speaking of confining, the best thing you can do for yourself with parenting a toddler is to set boundaries during the day. Have a time set aside for “high chair” time and put him in it while you clean the kitchen or pay the bills.
Have a “room time” where your tot stays in his crib (lights on, with toys) to play. This frees you up to get a shower or brush your teeth with the assurance that he is safe. It also makes him more compliant in the grocery cart, doctor’s office, or anywhere else where he cannot run free.
Yes, he may cry at first, but it won’t hurt him to learn that sometimes we have to sit still or stay in one place. More on room time here.
Learn to ignore tantrums.
Unless your child is hurting someone, let her throw a tantrum. Ignore it. Walk away. Do some dishes. Whatever you do, don’t try to problem solve it. Tantrums don’t dignify a response. And this applies to any age.
Keep on doing it.
Be patient. Parenting toddlers takes a LOT of consistency. Don’t expect perfection. In fact, your toddler is probably better at obeying than you think. If you feel discouraged, get a sheet of paper and make tallies for the number of times he obeys each day vs. the number of times he doesn’t. You’ll be surprised at how many times he actually does obey. Look for progress, not perfection. That’s your goal in this phase.
Get more tips here —→ How to help kids obey
Get some great resources.
It can be hard to find parenting books with specifics for dealing with toddlers. So often they are geared toward older kids, or they are simply too generic to be of help. My favorite practical book for this stage is On Becoming Toddler Wise, and On Becoming Preschool Wise for the preschool years. I also love Mom’s Notes by Carla Link. Both are full of very practical advice for specific situations that arise in toddlerhood. Don’t Make Me Count to Three is so encouraging and equipping in the early years. In addition, Chronicles of a Babywise Mom is an excellent online resource for practical ways to help your toddler.
Sweet mom, if you don’t hear anything else in this post, I want you to know this about parenting your toddler: God has given you this precious child. You cannot mess him up, because God’s love for him fills the gaps of your failures. We all fail, but in God’s grace, every single one of our children is held in His hands.
Do you have tips for parenting toddlers? Burning questions that I didn’t answer? Please share!
Looking for a way to start teaching your toddler to pray? You will love our JOY prayer cards. They will teach your toddlers a simple but effective way to pray. Click the image below for all the details.
Through practical tools & Bible-based resources, Kim Sorgius is dedicated to helping your family GROW in faith so you can be Not Consumed by life’s struggles. Author of popular kid’s devotional Bible studies and practical homeschooling tools, Kim has a master’s degree in education and curriculum design coupled with over 2 decades of experience working with kids and teens. Above all, her most treasured job is mother and homeschool teacher of four amazing kiddos.